Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Old Postcard Wednesday--The Great Asulkan Glacier, British Columbia, Canada

(click to enlarge photo)

This week I have chosen to share excerpts from two writings representative around the time period of this old postcard. The first serves as an introduction to the longer, second excerpt. [Highlighting added.]

Any of the fine men folk pictured here on the Asulkan Glacier might have been the authors of the two pieces profiled below, any of the fine women folk might have been the wife referenced in the final sentence, and all of them most surely stopped at Glacier House during their tour.......

~following excerpt* from:
Academy of Natural Sciences

Some Observations on the Illecellewaet and Asulkan Glaciers of British Columbia
by George Vaux, Jr., and William S. Vaux, Jr.

The glaciers of the Canadian Rockies offer many attractions to those interested in their action, both on account of the newness of the region in which they are located and their marked activity. The Canadian Pacific Railway, without which this region would be almost inaccessible, was first opened but a little over a dozen years ago, and before that time it was practically an unbroken wilderness. Among the most accessible glaciers from the line of the railway are those in the vicinity of the Glacier House, which is situated in the heart of the Selkirk Range, at an elevation of 4,122 feet above sea level. With this point as a centre a score of glaciers may be reached. It seems to form a natural station for their observation. 

~following excerpts** from:
The Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society 

By Mr. John Dendy,

(Addressed to the Society, in the Geographical Hall, on Tuesday,
January 8th, 1907.)

Every lecturer is entitled to his introductory apologies and explanations. Mine shall be as brief as possible.

I am not here to give useful information. We went to Canada for pleasure and refreshment which we got abundantly, but we did not pretend to accumulate statistics nor qualify as advisers to intending emigrants. Nor shall I indulge in generalisations and prophecies as to the present and future of that great country. There are travellers who can study an empire in a month, and give you the results in half an hour. I am not one of them. At most I can hope to give you some idea of what some parts of the Far West look like. But certain general impressions one did receive, which had a good deal to do with the happiness of our visit. There was a feeling of a widespread and reasonable prosperity: that the man who would face hard work, and was not a fool, had a safe future before him. The problems of extreme poverty and keen competition for the means of living did not seem to press as they do here. And the drink problem was at any rate far less obtrusive. People seemed healthier and happier, more hopeful and more vigorous. Again, there was the feeling of a far more genuine equality than we have here. Men seemed to be taken much more on their merits and less on their wealth or the nature of their employment. Of civility we found no lack, of servility hardly a trace. Political freedom seemed to be backed by social freedom in a way in which it is not here. And the bitter religious strife which is disfiguring our national life so greatly to-day was not forced upon one's attention there. Now these things had much to do with the enjoyment of our visit, for they helped to create for us an atmosphere which it is as impossible for me to reproduce here as it would be to bring into this room the sweet cool breezes that ruffled the waters of Lake Huron, or the bright sunlight that was ripening the grain in Manitoba.

We travelled some 12,000 miles by land and water, but lingered only in the Far West, to which we were drawn by its splendid scenery, the presence there of friends, and the chance of seeing something of the settlers' fight with nature and the beginnings of civilised life in wild places. . .

. . . Banff is essentially a place of refreshment for mind and body. One wonders if it can be kept so, and made available at reasonable cost for larger numbers of tired workers, without vulgarising and spoiling it as is so often done in such places at home. . .

A year ago I do not think I could have found a good word for a railway which had dared to invade the heart of the mountains. One memorable Sunday when we traversed the Rockies and Selkirks from Banff to Glacier House has somewhat modified my views. The pictures may give you some faint idea of the marvellous scenery through which the C.P.R. line passes, but they cannot give you the effects of height and depth, nor the wonderful distant views of loftier summits, snow fields and glaciers which every branch valley discloses. From Banff to Glacier House is only about 140 miles, but it takes from 7 to 8 hours if nothing goes wrong. Slow going, but for good reason, for the line first climbs up the valley of the Bow for 700 ft. to the Kicking Horse Pass, then descends down the Kicking Horse River for 43 miles to Golden on the great Columbia River, and in that descent drops no less than 2,640 ft. Here it passes out of the Rocky Mountains, and after running some 20 miles along the Columbia River turns into the Beaver Valley and begins to climb the Selkirks, the range which lies immediately west of the Rockies, and in a distance of only 22 miles ascends nearly 2,000 feet to the summit of Rogers Pass. . .

. . . One word finally about the Railway. To me it did not seem to desecrate the mountains as it does in Switzerland. Wonderful as it is as a piece of work, it is so dwarfed by its surroundings that it seems to have no power to spoil them. I had a fanciful feeling that after all it was only there on sufferance, and that some day the mighty peaks, discharging their crushing avalanches, the solemn silent forests and the wild torrents, would put their heads together and quietly wipe it all out again; while the wild creatures, bears and deer, eagles and hawks, and even the greedy porcupines and friendly squirrels would look on approvingly. It is all too vast and grand even for a railway to spoil.

This day's journey landed us at Glacier House. The only buildings are just the station and hotel with its outhouses. There is nothing more. No roads but the railroad within I suppose 20 miles. No place where you could buy anything within nearly 40. It lies on the bend of a great horse-shoe curve, made by the railway as it descends the Selkirk Range. In front the forest falls sharply away into the deep, dark valley, beyond which a range of noble white peaks closes the view. Behind, the woods lead up to the ice fall and moraine of Illecillewaet Glacier, on one side of which rises Sir Donald, the best known mountain of these parts, to between 10,000 and 11,000 ft. A few trails run through the forest in various directions, by which you pass quickly from the luxury of a good hotel into scenes as wild as they are beautiful.

Let us for a few minutes take the one that leads to the Asulkan Glacier and Pass some 4,000 ft. above the Hotel. One of the many excellent arrangements of the C.P.R. is the provision of skilled Swiss Guides at the best climbing centres on its line. Under the care of a fine young fellow from Interlaken, and duly provided with the regulation rope and axes, we pass in the early morning of a doubtful day, which improves later on to perfection, into the solemn woods, whose silence is broken only by strange bird calls, the chattering of scolding squirrels, the shrill whistle of the marmot, sometimes by the rustle of a passing bear, and often by a scurry of a porcupine making for shelter in a convenient tree. Under the trees, over green carpetings of splendid oak ferns and many a strange and beautiful growth, we pass until we strike a foaming stream strangely dammed with a mass of fallen trees, the work of some avalanche or heavy wind, through and over which the milky glacier water pours in a quite novel kind of cascade. Presently following the stream the woods are left behind. Patches of winter snow, fast disappearing in the June sunshine, block the trail, while close beside them patches of the lovely golden Selkirk Lily, not unlike very delicate daffodils, follow up the melting snow. Mounting steadily the higher peaks begin to come into sight, and give a constant succession of glorious views, until the trail ceases near the glacier's foot, and some heavy plunging in deep snow lands us on the steep lateral moraine, up which lies our rather rough way, with the Ptarmigan, just changing their winter plumage, running on before us as tame as barn-door fowls. A halt at the top to put the rope on before taking to the glacier, gives a great view back, down to the main valley with Rogers Pass far away below us on the right. An hour or more's steady grind over the glacier and the neve above it, lands us at last in a very perfect little col with the giants of the Selkirks, the Dawson Range, full in view before us and separated from us only by the Great Fish Creek Valley, whose bottom lies darkly and precipitously some 3,000 ft. immediately below us. (See Fig 2.) It is a great place, deep in the heart of the mountains, and well worth the heavy plunging in softened snow and somewhat tumultuous glissading which are features of our descent. It is not every lady who goes to Glacier House that makes that little 9 hours' trip. I remember that when we got back there was a train just in, and an American gentleman, making his half hour's inspection of the place, said to me:

" I guess there ain't any excursions here."

" No, sir," I answered, " unless you make them on your legs."

''Ah ! I thought so," he said, regarding my muddy boots and my wife's scorched face with an amused contempt; and he went on by the same train.


* for links to libraries with access to full article click at

** full article at Google books



Phivos Nicolaides said...

This is a stunning post. Hugs.

Lydia said...

Phivos~ Thank you! - and hugs in return.

Melinda said...

Another lovely Old Postcard Wednesday. The Canadian Rockies are so close to where I grew up and the landscape is so similar to southwestern Montana. Both are such beautiful, healing places. I actually crave the mountains when I am away too long!

Take care, Lydia--I've been thinking about you and sending you all my best energy!


Lydia said...

Melinda~ You would have a natural connection to the Canadian Rockies having been raised in sw Montana. Your mountains gave you strength that you needed later on.
I thank you for sending strength to me now.



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